Three goals from forward Gyasi Zardes propelled Columbus Crew SC to a 3-2 victory over Minnesota United FC, and in the process clinching an Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs berth for the Black & Gold on Sunday evening at MAPFRE Stadium.
Thanks to a first-half weather delay, Crew SC had the advantage of knowing their postseason qualification at halftime against Minnesota, as a Montreal Impact loss at New England secured a top-six finish for Columbus.
Following the delay, Zardes quickly put Columbus on the board after a corner kick from Federico Higuain in the 11th minute. Higuain sent a short corner to Milton Valenzuela, who crossed to the middle of the box to set up Zardes for a perfect header. The tally marked Zardes’ 17th of the season and a new personal regular-season career high.
Zardes doubled Columbus’ lead in the second half, capitalizing on a blocked free kick from Higuain. The Crew SC midfielder sent a driven ball directly toward Minnesota goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who coughed it up to a pouncing Zardes as he finished with vigor to make it a 2-0 advantage.
United responded, however, with two straight goals from Francisco Calvin in the 68th and 77th minutes, respectively.
In the 83rd minute, Zardes secured his first career hat trick with a tally similar to his first goal on a ball from Niko Hansen. Defender Harrison Afful ran the ball up the right side of the field and laid it off to Hansen, who delivered a cutting ball to the center of the box for Zardes to capture the game-winner.
Columbus finished the night with 19 total shots and out-possessed Minnesota 52 to 48 percent. The victory combined with a loss from the Philadelphia Union saw Columbus finish at fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Crew SC is set to open the MLS Cup Playoffs on Thursday, November 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET by traveling to face D.C. United at Audi Field. As announced by MLS, this Eastern Conference Knockout Round match is set to be televised nationally on FS1 and Unimas. The match also airs locally on the radio on CD102.5 FM in English. The club’s official website, ColumbusCrewSC.com, is set to stream the English-language radio broadcast online as well as host the Spanish-language audio broadcast.
- Josh Williams made his 100th regular-season start for Crew SC in today’s match against Minnesota United FC. The defender made 50 touches and attempted 44 passes with 93.2 percent accuracy. This season, Williams, made 21 regular-season appearances (16 starts). Since making his MLS debut in 2012, Williams has made 146 regular-season appearances (114 for Crew SC) and made 128 starts (100 for Crew SC), scoring seven goals (all for Crew SC) and providing five assists (four for Crew SC).
- Gyasi Zardes recorded a hat trick in tonight’s match against Minnesota United FC. The first goal came in the 11th minute when Zardes received a cross from Milton Valenzuela and headed the ball past the Loons’ goalkeeper Matthew Lampson. The second score came in the 49th minute, as the forward tapped-in a ball that bounced off Lampson. The third goal came in the 83rd minute as Zardes volleyed a cross from Niko Hansen into the back of the net for the game-winning goal. This was Zardes’ fourth multi-score game of the season (all at MAPFRE Stadium), and it marked his first career hat trick. In addition, Zardes scored the most goals by an American in 2018 MLS regular-season action. Zardes joined the Black & Gold via a trade with the LA Galaxy prior to the beginning of the 2018 MLS regular season. Since making his MLS debut in 2013, Zardes has made 164 regular-season appearances (149 starts) registering 53 goals and 17 assists.
- With tonight’s hat trick, Gyasi Zardes moves into third on Crew SC’s list of most goals scored in a single MLS regular season. The goals were his 17th, 18th and 19th scores of the season, surpassing a career-high in a single regular season that he set in the 2014 MLS campaign with the LA Galaxy (16 goals). He also surpasses Stern John (16) and Ola Kamara (16) for the third-place spot in Black & Gold single-season history. The only Crew SC players to score more than 18 goals in a single season are Stern John (26 goals in 1998) and Kei Kamara (22 goals in 2015).
- Milton Valenzuela registered an assist in tonight’s match against Minnesota United FC. The assist came on Gyasi Zardes’ 11th-minute goal when the Argentine took a short corner kick pass from Federico Higuain and sent a cross to the Black & Gold forward. In addition, the assist marks Valenzuela’s sixth helper of the season. Milton Valenzuela joined Crew SC on loan in 2018 as a Young Designated Player from Newell’s Old Boys. Since making his Black & Gold debut earlier this season, Valenzuela made 30 regular-season appearances (29 starts), recording one goal to go with his six assists.
- Niko Hansen recorded a game-winning assist in tonight’s match against Minnesota United FC. The assist came on Gyasi Zardes’ 83rd-minute goal as the midfielder took a pass from Harrison Afful and relayed a cross to Crew SC’s forward. The assist was Hansen’s third of the season, surpassing his 2017 total (two). This season, Hansen made 22 MLS regular-season appearances (11 starts) and scored three goals to go with his three assists. Since making his MLS debut in 2017 for Crew SC, Hansen has made six regular-season appearances (14 starts), scoring four goals and providing five assists.
- Harrison Afful recorded a game-winning assist in tonight’s match against Minnesota United FC. The assist came on Gyasi Zardes’ 83rd-minute goal as the Ghanaian sent a through-ball to Niko Hansen, who passed the ball across the box to the forward for the score. The assist was Afful’s sixth of the season, equaling his total from 2015-2017 combined. This year, Afful made 32 MLS regular-season appearances (all starts) scoring two goals to go with his six assists. Since making his MLS debut for the Black & Gold in 2015, Afful has made 95 regular-season appearances (92 starts), tallying five goals and 12 assists.
- With tonight’s win over Minnesota United FC, Crew SC clinches a spot in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup playoffs. This is the fourth playoff appearance for the Black & Gold in the last five years. Most recently, Crew SC advanced to the Eastern Conference Championship as a five seed in 2017. Crew SC has one MLS Cup in their history, a 2008 victory over the New York Red Bulls.
- Crew SC won their 300th MLS regular-season match in today’s meeting with Minnesota United FC. They join the LA Galaxy (328 wins), FC Dallas (305 wins), the New York Red Bulls (302 wins) and Sporting Kansas City (300) as the only teams in MLS to reach the milestone. Additionally, the victory extended Crew SC’s regular-season home unbeaten streak to seven matches. Dating back to a win against Real Salt Lake (June 30), Crew SC also tallied victories against Orlando City SC (July 21), the Houston Dynamo (August 11), New York City FC (September 1) and the Colorado Rapids (September 22) as well as drawing with the Philadelphia Union (September 29). Over that span, Crew SC held a 6-0-1 record at home, outscoring their opponents by a score of 13-7.